By Maria Thimothy, Sr. consultant at OneIMS who helps businesses grow by creating & capturing demand & managing & nurturing relationships.
We all remember the anxiety of raising our hands in grade school to ask a question and being scared that people might make fun of us for “asking a stupid question.” If you were lucky enough to have a teacher who held the belief that “there is no such thing as a stupid question” then you will remember that it fostered a great environment for learning. Business is no different. Oftentimes, employees are scared to speak up in in-house or client meetings, as they are scared to ask the dreaded “stupid question” and look like rookies. However, questions no matter how basic or complex, are invaluable in business. Your job is to get to know the business and clients in as much detail as possible, so if you are ever in doubt, just ask. Not asking questions can lead to all sorts of avoidable misunderstandings.
When You Don’t Know
All of us start somewhere in our careers and being a new employee can be intimidating, especially if everyone else in the office has been around for longer than you. However, this is actually one of the best positions to be in — when you are starting from the bottom, it’s your job to ask as many questions as possible to build your competence. Look for experts you can learn from and ask them questions. If you ever find yourself in a meeting and feel lost, don’t be scared to speak up and clarify. Chances are if you are confused about something, you probably aren’t the only one. However, if you pretend to understand when you don’t, it will inevitably lead you to further confusion and misunderstanding down the line when people assume that you are up to speed.
When You Think You Know It All
One mistake people make after working in a profession for a longer period of time is thinking that they have all the answers. You may have closed dozens of deals, but that still doesn’t mean that you have seen it all. In fact, sometimes the biggest difficulty at this stage of your career is learning to think outside the box and ask relevant questions in order to find solutions you may not have ever considered before. When you are meeting a new client, for example, you may think you already have a tried-and-true solution for them based on your previous experience. This belief can prevent you from asking fresh questions pertinent to their business. Challenge yourself to go into each meeting with a clean slate and be curious. Don’t ask questions only about things you are unfamiliar with, but also check in with yourself and ask questions you think you already know the answer to.
When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
One of the biggest challenges in business is recognizing that there may be situations in which there are things you aren’t even aware of not knowing. It sounds odd, but it is actually very common. Often, we find ourselves embarking on a project and, despite being fully prepared, unexpected problems crop up that we simply could not have predicted. The best way to try and avoid surprise issues is to consult with experts frequently. When meeting with clients, allow time to discuss if there is any additional information that you haven’t covered that the client thinks is relevant to your project, or what they see as the biggest stumbling blocks to success. Or you may want to turn to a more experienced team member to look over your proposal and check for potential pitfalls. Unexpected snags happen, but you can help prepare yourself for the unknown with a few well-directed questions.
In order to continue to improve our skills and deliver better services to clients, we have to keep asking questions. It is crucial to make sure that you understand as much as you can about your own business as well as that of your clients’. In order to build expertise, you have to learn, and learning happens through inquiry. Keep an open mind and be brave. Allow for the possibility that you may not know everything and have all the solutions right off the bat. Learn to use questions to collaborate with your clients and colleagues to avoid pitfalls and achieve solutions.